Dumb Money is a lot of dumb fun at the movies

Dumb Money is now showing at Sale Cinemas and is rated MA15+ for strong coarse language. Image: Sony Pictures

Dumb Money is a biographical comedic drama – a David vs. Goliath tale about everyday people who flipped the script on Wall Street and got rich by turning GameStop (the video game store) into the world’s hottest company in January 2021. Resident film buffs Stefan Bradley and Tom Parry went to check it out.

TP: I remember this story very well, Stefan – it was all about people buying GameStop shares, a lot of big finance bros failing to understand why, then failing to squeeze them out of the market. It was a fun time for everybody, except venture capitalists and hedge fund managers.

SB: The structure of this as an explainer of these events is quite similar to The Big Short, and I guess The Wolf of Wall Street.

TP: I would agree, though the content in Dumb Money is much tamer than those two movies, and there’s a lot less fourth-wall breaking – it’s directed, produced and edited quite conventionally.

SB: It tries to keep your attention with comedy, and with some of their music choices like Cardi B’s ‘WAP’ at the very start, you realise it’s not intended to be an exposition slog with the narrative and explainers moving quickly. It’s only about 100 minutes and uses a bunch of memes, montages and some news clips from the time to provide context. If you’re not in the know when it comes to trading stocks, as well as online communities such as Reddit, Dumb Money does a great job in getting you up to speed with the basics.

TP: It doesn’t get bogged down by the rules and regulations which govern Wall Street, which is good – it allows the film to stay focused the story. But on the other hand, it doesn’t explain concepts such as short selling very well. For instance, in The Big Short they made a point of explaining what all these complex finance terms were and how they work to benefit the super-rich – the establishment, as such – whereas in Dumb Money, they talk about losing $2 billion in the space of two days, and unless you understand how short-selling and the like works, you’d be wondering, how is it that the stock you’ve invested in goes up, and yet you still lose $2 billion? But other than that, even a financial numpty like myself was able to clearly understand what’s going on.

SB: Many of the other supporting actors were composite characters to represent working class people buying the stocks, such as hospital staff, GameStop employees, and university students. Dano and the rest of the cast, including Seth Rogen, America Ferrera and Sebastian Stan were very strong. Pete Davidson brought the laughs. And you feel for all these people who just want the best for their families and to do well in life – they don’t have any skeletons in their closet besides financial problems.

TP: And you have main character Keith Gill (played by Paul Dano), who was a financial analyst who was working for one of the big firms, but that was his side hustle. His real passion was stock trading and and discussing it on the internet. On another point, one of the trends we’re seeing with Hollywood productions is they tend to villainise the rich – they see them as these out-of-touch elites and all the rest of it; but the film does a decent job of humanising these characters, particularly Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen) – he’s a dad, he’s a husband; he read stories to his kids at nights and all that kind of thing. And I also think the other refreshing thing about the movie is this like a lack of cynicism – with a lot of these eat-the-rich style movies, it’s all about how the world is broken, and there’s no way of fixing it; whereas here, the conclusion kind of feels uplifting – this wasn’t the outcome we all wanted, but there is hope.

SB: GameStop is the company that operates in this country as EB Games Australia and obviously as a gamer I have a soft spot for that store. So I was hoping for GameStop to emerge victorious in all of this so that EB Games doesn’t go the way of Blockbuster or more recently, Sanity.

TP: I wouldn’t call myself a full-fledged gamer, but I do enjoy video games, and have a passion for physical media; so to see all these little guys sticking it to these big wigs who don’t understand why this kind of stock has value resonated with me as well. It’s not just monetary value, it’s emotional value – it’s wanting to hold onto something that’s near and dear to them. It’s kind of sentimental and it’s a little bit cheesy, but there’s a charm to the rationale.

SB: This does take place during the pandemic so some people may be turned off by seeing masks and being reminded of restrictions.

TP: It’s a time capsule.

SB: And I found it cathartic that essential workers were given their due and hard work acknowledged. I feel like most fictional media set in our world have been produced as if the pandemic didn’t happen. To end this review, the film moves at a brisk pace and I was quite entertained. It can’t tell the whole story in 100 minutes, but you get the gist.

TP: What I would add is the film was directed by an Australian, Craig Gillespie – he’s probably most famous for helming,  I, Tonya and Cruella. Those movies are a lot more energetic than Dumb Money is; so in that sense I was a little bit disappointed, but it’s by no means unenjoyable. It’s got a stacked, talented cast who lend a fun vibe to proceedings, and there’s plenty of laughs to be had. This is definitely one I’d recommend.